The Town of North Hempstead will hold their annual Black History Month celebrations this year, with a special focus on African-American achievements in art, science and education. Each councilmember chose a person from their district to honor and Councilwoman Viviana Russell’s pick for the recognition was Westbury School District Chair for Science and STEM, Brumsic Brandon, III.
Brumsic isn’t the only member of the Brandon family receiving honors at this year’s celebration. This year ceremony marks the first time an art exhibit will be displayed and the monthlong exhibit will feature the works of Brumsic’s father, Brumsic Brandon, Jr., as well as his sister, Barbara Brandon-Croft, the first nationally-syndicated African-American cartoonists. Their works, along with two exhibits from the Nassau County African American Museum (“Women in NASA” and “African Genius”), will be on display at the “Yes We Can” Center throughout February.
“I am very proud of both of their contributions, especially in our hometown,” Brandon said.
Barbara Brandon-Croft became the first African-American woman to have a nationally syndicated cartoon column, the satirical, “Where I’m Coming From.” She followed in the footsteps of her father, Brumsic Brandon, Jr., the mind and talent behind “Luther,” which followed the struggles of a black child growing up in an urban neighborhood.
The recognition from the town has special significance for Brandon, since he grew up in New Cassel, graduating from Westbury High School in 1975 and going onto Howard University where he majored in zoology. A self-described “nature fiend,” Brandon formed a close bond with his professors, which allowed him unique opportunities such as doing research in the Amazon and the Everglades.
Brandon said he never expected to make a career in education.
“I substituted to make some extra money, and one day, I was in the classroom and a student realized he had a test the next period and said he needed to sit next to a white boy so he could pass it,” Brandon recalled. “If I had even thought that as a kid, I would have gotten a butt-whopping. For a kid to say that out loud, I realized we had taken a step back. Three years later I was teaching.”
Brandon is now a leader in the school district that helped shape him when he was younger. He helped spearhead the district’s rigorous STEM Magnet Academy, a partnership with the Cradle of Aviation that gives sixth- through ninth graders access to what is essentially a learning laboratory. The rigorous program allows students access to hands-on exhibits and artifacts, as well as interactions with scientists, mathematicians, historians, aviators and local leaders. The district has also established partnerships with SUNY Old Westbury, Nassau Community College and the Long Island Children’s Museum to give students more interactive science opportunities.
“I like to utilize Long Island as a laboratory,” said Brandon, adding he spent his childhood exploring and developing his love of science through play. “I’d like to see children be able to do science. Nowadays, everything is so scripted. Every experiment they get is very structured. That goes against what science really is. I’m hoping to get children to be able to develop a love for science the way I did.”
Brandon describes himself as an “avid outdoorsmen,” and can be found spending his free time hunting and fishing. For the past 10 years, he’s also made a yearly trip to Ghana to help at a girls’ school his friend established. With the help of donations from the Westbury community, Brandon aids in the effort to provide for any needs the students and staff have.
“They had absolutely nothing the first time I went there. This area never had a high school graduate, now we have girls in graduate school,” Brandon said. “It’s very rewarding. Anything and everything you do is genuinely appreciated. That keeps me doing it.”
The Town of North Hempstead’s Black History Month ceremony takes place Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. at the “Yes We Can” Community Center.